Mao ‘Little Red Book’ Exhibit Spurs NY Times To Hail China For Better ‘Taste’ Than U.S. In The 1960s

Posted on Sun 11/16/2014 by


TimGrahampicture-13-1409699701By Tim Graham ~

little-red-book[1] (2)The New York Times reported a scandal when a collection of Nazi memorabilia caused a senior Human Rights Watch analyst to be suspended in 2009. But collecting Red China Mao Zedong memorabilia is apparently much more charming.

On Friday, Times culture reporter William “Biff” Grimes promoted “Quotations of Chairman Mao: 50th Anniversary Exhibition, 1964-2014,” at the Grolier Club, displaying “books and propaganda material from the collection of Justin G. Schiller, an antiquarian book seller.”

At least the headline on Mao’s Little Red Book was “Mandated to Be a Best Seller.” Grimes perverted a Christian term and called it “The catechism of the Cultural Revolution,” and never specified that this ten-year event cost an estimated 1.5 million Chinese lives. Mao kitsch is “intriguing,” even when American heads are under Chinese feet:

The prose of the “Quotations” was prosaic — “The masses have a potentially inexhaustible enthusiasm for socialism,” one typical excerpt begins….The book held sway as a symbol, not a program of ideas, which is why it lent itself so readily to propaganda uses. Bold posters showed crowds holding the book aloft, their faces radiant with joy. At home, citizens could pour water from a “Little Red Book” carafe, wake up to a “Little Red Book” alarm clock with a soldier’s arm waving the book back and forth, and watch as their children played with rubber “Little Red Book” dolls.

One of the more intriguing examples is a rosy-cheeked boy who holds a rifle in one hand, a red book in the other, and presses one foot firmly down on the head of an American soldier with a military policeman’s helmet. “They squeak when you press them,” Mr. Schiller said.

What really shocked the reader was the Grimes punch line at the end. Mao’s Communist commands were a sign of “taste,” at least compared to cheesy Western best-sellers of the Sixties:

In the West, the book commanded the attention of two audiences. The Maoist faithful, small in numbers but fervent, drank it in like a revolutionary elixir. Publishers saw it as an invitation to sell parody books, both satirical (“Quotations From Chairman L.B.J.”) and serious (“Quotations From Chairman Jesus”). Such was the power of the brand that, decades after Mao’s death, publishers churned out “Quotations” parodies for Jesse Ventura and Tony Blair.

Readers inclined to scoff at what is probably the world’s most popular book, after the Bible, might take a look at the American best-seller lists in the mid-1960s, when the Cultural Revolution kicked into gear. While thousands of Red Guard zealots held the red book aloft, shouting revolutionary slogans, American readers thrilled to “Valley of the Dolls” and “How to Avoid Probate.” There is no accounting for taste.

Earth to Biff: Didn’t the headline just announce it was a “most popular book” only through brute force? Where is the “accounting for taste” in that?

Tim Graham contributes at NewsBusters. He is Director of  Media Analysis at the Media Research Center and is the author of the book “Pattern Of Deception: The Media’s Role In The Clinton Presidency”.

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